CHAMPAIGN — They are different weights, different ages and from different geographical sections of the state.
They all have the same goal: to win an individual wrestling state championship.
Of the 35 area Class 1A athletes who arrived at the Assembly Hall on Thursday with that dream, 16 are still in contention. They advanced into quarterfinal bouts that start at 8:30 a.m. today.
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher teammates Cameron Schwing (113 pounds), Chet McClure (138) and Josh Wallick (285) needed less time than many advancers to move on. They posted pins. McClure’s and Wallick’s came in the first period.
“I was zoned in on what I had to do,” said McClure, a four-time state-qualifier. “You’ve got to block out distractions if you want to wrestle here successfully.”
Schwing, a junior who reached the 100-win club at sectionals, has experienced the atmosphere and aura of state before. He’s glad.
“You know what you’re getting yourself into,” he said. “There’s not the first-time jitters.”
Thursday losers must hope the person who beat them continues winning so they’ll get a shot in wrestlebacks.
“I’m happy I made it to state, and I’m happy I won, but I won’t be satisfied until I reach the top of the (awards) podium,” Schwing said.
Wallick has been top-ranked in his weight class all season, but he avoids focusing on that.
“It doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t mean you’re first yet,” he said.
To achieve his level of excellence (Wallick is 47-0), he has had to be self-motivating. In the practice room, the closest person to him in weight is a 220-pound freshman. He works out with the Falcons’ coaches, but said, “they’re 100 pounds less than me.”
Added Wallick: “I go as hard as I can, but when it gets too easy, I have my own practices. I do sprints. Pushups. Situps.”
LeRoy advanced four of its grapplers into the quarterfinals: Tate Ruffner (113), Austin Matlock (120), Caleb Wilson (160) and Ty Sandy (220). Matlock had to recover from a 4-2 third-period for a 5-4 triumph.
A four-time state-meet competitor, Matlock wasn’t alarmed when he trailed late.
“It has happened to me before,” he said. “That doesn’t make it as tough to say you can still win.”
Argenta-Oreana’s Nate Jozsa (132) and Rob Lane (145) stayed in contention for a title as did Bismarck-Henning teammates Jarod Noel (170) and Morgan Supergan (285). St. Joseph-Ogden has two remaining contenders: Austin Hedrick (152) and Austin Upton (170).
“Once you get the first win, you know you belong here,” Upton said, “and it’s a good thing when a teammate, and especially your (practice) partner (Hedrick), wins. That means you’re on the same page.”
Jozsa was a two-time Class 2A qualifier at Mount Zion, but lost his opening state bout both years. Thursday’s 16-4 win over the fourth-rated wrestler at 132 was his first state win.
“I wish I could have gotten it earlier than my junior year,” said Jozsa, who is 42-0. “The record doesn’t put pressure on me. It just proves I’ve worked hard.”
Other area quarterfinalists are Monticello’s Tanner VanDalsen (195), Clinton’s Kye Reczek (160), who earned his 99th career win with a pin in 2:55, and Prairie Central’s Evan Bahler (145).
“Last year, all I did was defense,” Bahler said. “This year, I’ve switched it up. People who attack win. It’s better to be the windshield than the bug.”